SERVES 4 to 6
Caserta, one of the provinces of the region of Campania, is home to my friend Mario Cipolla, a charming and engaging man who now helps his son, Mauro, run Caffé d'Arte, an espresso bar in Seattle. Mario's grandmother Maria Grazia was a clever cook who used her wits to provide delicious meals.
One of Mario's favorite dishes from his grandmother's kitchen is a country-style pasta called pettole, for which there is a charming tale that goes like this: Beatrice, a beautiful peasant girl, went to a dance and saw and flirted with a noble-looking soldier, who asked for a turn on the dance floor. The soldier whispered in her ear: "Beatrice, everyone says that you are a good cook, can you make me something wonderful to eat?"
So Beatrice invited him to her cottage, poor as it was, and scrubbed and cleaned all day in anticipation of his visit. Then she began making dough from water, flour, and a drop of olive oil. The soldier arrived carrying a bottle of expensive champagne and asked her what she was making to go with it. "Pettole" she answered. The soldier, realizing as he looked around that he was in humble surroundings, suggested that she add some champagne to the dough but she declined and added it instead to the meager lamb sauce she had made and in that instant elevated pettole into a dish fit for her noble soldier.
And, according to Mario, that is how pettole with a lamb and champagne sauce came to be the most asked for dish from his grandmother. For this delicious adaptation, the sauce is thickened with half and half. Use homemade or store-bought pappardelle.
2 tablespoons Filippo Berio Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 pound lamb stew meat, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup dry champagne
1 cup hot homemade veal stock or beef broth
5 fresh or canned plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup half and half
8 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
1 pound homemade pettole or store-bought pappardelle
In a medium-size sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it softens. Add the lamb pieces and brown them. Pour in ½ cup of the champagne, stir the mixture well for about 4 minutes, and allow the foam to subside. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in the stock, tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cover the pan and let the sauce simmer until the meat is tender, 45-55 minutes.
Drain the meat in a mesh strainer set over a bowl to catch the liquid. Set the meat aside in a separate bowl. Return all but ¼ cup of the liquid to the pan (there should be 2 cups of liquid) and stir in the remaining ½ cup champagne. Cook, uncovered, over low heat until the mixture begins to simmer.
Whisk the flour into the reserved ¼ cup liquid, then whisk it into the simmering sauce and cook until the mixture begins to thicken. Whisk in the half and half and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, return the lamb to the pan, and stir in the basil. Cover the sauce and keep warm while the pettole are cooking.
Cook the pettole according to the directions. Drain them, reserving 2 tablespoons of the water, and return them to the pasta pot. Stir in the sauce and the reserved cooking water. Mix carefully, transfer the mixture to a deep platter, and serve immediately.
Variation: This dish is equally as delicious with veal shoulder, trimmed from the bone and cut into pieces.
Note: For even browning of the meat, wipe the pieces with paper towels so they are as dry as possible.
Note: Save the veal shoulder bones to make Veal Stock.
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